Manchester United thrashed Chelsea 3-0 at Old Trafford as the English Premier League champions moved an ominous step closer to leaders Liverpool.
|Rooney slots in his goal through the legs of Ashley Cole [GALLO/GETTY]
Nemanja Vidic headed United in front in first-half stoppage time and Wayne Rooney doubled their advantage on the hour with a close-range volley.
Dimitar Berbatov completed the rout in the 87th minute to lift United into third place.
Earlier, Wigan won for the sixth time in seven league matches when Maynor Figueroa's late header earned a 1-0 victory over Tottenham Hotspur who are third from bottom.
Alex Ferguson's side are now just five points behind Liverpool and one behind a Chelsea side who were desperately lacking any spark and wilted alarmingly.
United have two games in hand of both their main title rivals.
"(Chelsea) had a lot of good possession and they are a threat when they get possession...but I don't think they really got a clear-cut chance," Ferguson told British broadcaster Sky Sports.
"We said before that we still had all the main teams at home and we really need to win those games.
"January is a big month for us with eight games but we've got the squad to cope."
United face Wigan Athletic on Wednesday and Bolton Wanderers on Saturday.
Should they win both they will be top of the league before Liverpool face Everton next Monday.
Defeat was Chelsea's first on the road in the league this season and continued manager Luiz Felipe Scolari's poor record against the top sides since taking over at Stamford Bridge.
"This has done big damage to us," the Brazilian told Sky.
"We came here to win and now we need to think about what happened with some players."
United were dealt a blow before kick-off when central defender Rio Ferdinand was ruled out with a recurrence of a back injury that will require a visit to a specialist next week.
However, his absence was hardly noticed as keeper Edwin van der Sar barely had a save to make as United made it eight league games without conceding a goal.
A yellow card for Frank Lampard after a foul that left Cristiano Ronaldo in a heap set the tone for a messy opening to a match that could be a pivotal point in the season.
United appealed for a penalty when Ashley Cole appeared to block a cross with his arm but it took them half an hour to force Petr Cech into a save from a Berbatov shot.
United began to ratchet up the pressure on the Chelsea goal just before the interval.
John Terry was forced into one desperate block from a Park Ji-sung shot before Ronaldo had a headed goal disallowed after referee Howard Webb ordered a crafty United corner to be re-taken - much to the fury of Rooney.
|Wayne Rooney and Welsh midfielder Ryan Giggs argue their disallowed corner [AFP]
Chelsea failed to learn their lesson and as Giggs delivered the ball again in stoppage time, Berbatov got a slight touch and Serbian defender Vidic crept in at the far post to nod the ball past Cech.
The goal knocked the stuffing out of Chelsea and despite Scolari sending on Nicolas Anelka to partner Didier Drogba up front after the break it was United who moved up a gear.
A sweet movement on the hour mark saw Ronaldo's back heel release Patrice Evra and his pacey cross was met first time by Rooney to double United's lead.
United could have scored on numerous occasions as Chelsea wilted before Berbatov supplied the final flourish, connecting with a Ronaldo free kick.
Maynor Figueroa scored his first goal for Wigan in injury time to give his team a 1-0 win over injury-hit Tottenham.
With Spurs defender Michael Dawson off injured and goalkeeper Heurelho Gomes labouring with what appeared to be a muscle problem, Figueroa – a Honduras defender who is on loan from Deportivo Olimpia - headed in a corner by Ryan Taylor at the near post.
The result kept Tottenham in the relegation zone and winless in five league matches, while Wigan consolidated their hold on seventh place and maintained their status as the Premier League's most in-form team, with 18 points from the last seven games.
Jermain Defoe had a quiet second debut for Tottenham, who beat a second-string Wigan side 3-1 in the FA Cup earlier this month.
The England striker started alongside Roman Pavlyuchenko and finished it next to Darren Bent, but was unable to forge an effective partnership with either as Wigan dominated possession and chances.
Tottenham had an opening in the first minute when Wigan goalkeeper Chris Kirkland fumbled a header by Ledley King and just managed to clear the loose ball before the attacking Dawson could get to it.
|Wigan's Honduran defender Maynor Figueroa, second right, celebrates his goal [AFP]
But Wigan edged their way into contention as the first half progressed and controlled the second, with Spurs creating few chances despite the presence of Defoe - who rejoined the club this week for $22 million, a year after leaving.
Wigan striker Amr Zaki headed just wide from a first-half free kick by Taylor and Gomes saved efforts by Wilson Palacios and Emile Heskey, before an injury sustained while clearing the ball limited his movement for much of the second half and meant he had to throw the ball instead of kick it.
With Bent and Aaron Lennon on as tactical substitutions and Jermaine Jenas having replaced the injured Dawson, Tottenham could not replace Gomes, who was labouring so badly that he could not even take goal kicks.
Wigan, though, was unable to test his mobility until the very end.
Zaki headed wide and then over the bar in the last five minutes of regular time before Figueroa scored late on.